I’ve followed Robert Bevan on Facebook and Twitter for a little while now and while fantasy novels have not necessarily been my first choice of genre to read, I’ve read the comments made by others about the Critical Failures series and was intrigued enough to give them a try. Also, Bevan’s own posts are often really witty and I figured that if his books were anything like his Facebook posts, I’d really enjoy them, so I downloaded them.
In the opening chapter of Critical Failures, we are introduced to Tim and his friends as they wait for a newcomer to their Caverns and Creatures fantasy role play game. Mordred the Cavern Master enters and is subjected to a little teasing from Tim’s friends, in particular, Cooper, who seems to be the group comedian. Dave, Tim and Cooper have played Cavern’s and Creatures for some time, but the fourth friend Julian is also a newcomer to the game, and initially Mordred enjoys teaching Julian the rules of the game, as the others wind each other up. However, as Cooper continues to poke fun at the eccentric Mordred, the friends soon find themselves in trouble. With the roll of some mysterious magical dice, Mordred sends the friends to the fantasy land that is the basis of the Cavern’s and Creature’s game.
My first impression of this book was that it was unbelievably funny. I haven’t laughed at a book so much in a while. The banter between the four friends is hilarious. If you have a gentle disposition when it comes to swearing and bodily functions, this may not be the book for you, but if you can appreciate the amusement that these things can bring to an amusing storyline, then you will love this book. None of the grossness is without purpose and the swearing is typical of your average man-child and adds to the humour of the novel, albeit toilet humour. However, in this book, with these characters, it works like a charm to keep the laughs coming throughout.
Tim, Cooper, Dave and Julian (Cooper, in particular) are childish but are faced with varying degrees of responsibility throughout the book. They cajole each other constantly, but will fight to the death for their friends, whilst determined to make Mordred pay for sending them to this strange land, just as soon as he sends them back! None of the characters fall into a stereotype and no character is one-dimensional. For example, whilst they are playing a role play game that tends to be considered geeky, they don’t really come across that way. Even Mordred isn’t really geek-like, more eccentric. They all have their chance to play the hero and they all create chaos at different points in the novel, which is testament to the ability of the writer.
Bevan cleverly links the role play imaginary actions in the first two chapters, before Mordred has sent them to the fantasy world of Algor, with the “reality” of the subsequent chapters so that these role-of-a-dice decisions are reflected when they arrive in Algor. After Cooper has chopped the head off one of the city guards, he becomes Public Enemy Number One in this fantasy land which leads them to have to figure things out quickly to escape the grasp of Captain Righteous Justificus Blademaster, (love this name!!) Captain of the Guard of Algor, and his soldiers, who wants justice for his fallen comrade. I imagined him to be a bit like Agamemnon in the Mr Peabody and Sherman movie. (My three-year old’s favourite film!)
As the boys become the characters they have invented in the beginning of the book with the intention of playing a game, not only are they getting used to new surroundings but new physical and mental abilities and flaws, as they change size and shape and gain magical powers and abilities. From the first two chapters, the reader becomes au fait with the rules of the game and the different types of characters available, so we are then able to understand potential challenges that they may face. Also, the fact that Julian is also new to the game, the reader is learning with him. I’m not familiar with role play games such as Cavern’s and Creatures I didn’t find that this was a hindrance at all. Mordred is ever-present as he uses the severed head of the guard as a conduit to communicate to the friends, giving them further opportunities to provoke and mock him, whilst giving them more information on what has happened and why. He is controlling their destinies from the real world and has the power to keep them alive or kill them.
The introduction of Tim’s sister, Katherine, and her boyfriend, Chaz, and their subsequent arrival in Algor, after they are also duped by Mordred, allows for further different types of characters and characteristics to be introduced. Bevan provides the reader with so much scope for future novels just by the number of different types of magical beings that he showcases in this first novel and you do get the impression that this is the tip of the Cavern’s and Creature’s iceberg. As vile as Tim, Cooper, Dave and Julian can be, you automatically find yourself cheering them on, wanting them to get their own back on the bizarre Cavern master, Mordred.
There are also various characters that live in Algor too, who are also very comical. Although we are only introduced to a handful in this book, it allows Bevan to show the disparity between the two worlds. From the modern world of fast food and mobile phones to the mediaeval world of castles, dungeons and horse-carts, we are reminded of what a challenge it must be, being transported from one world to the other.
It didn’t take me long to read this book, probably because it is just hilarious from start to finish. Not only is it funny, but the characters are really intriguing, particularly as most of the characters are two different people to some extent. Whilst the personalities remain from the real world, they have to adapt to their different abilities and Bevan doesn’t falter in his representation of these dual images at all. Of course it is a fantasy novel but the believability of the characters is never in question. I’m really looking forward to the other Critical Failure novels and if I’m ever feeling fed up, I know which book to pick up to cheer me up.